Thoughts on Textbook of Aramaic Ostraca from Idumea, Vol. 1 by Bezalel Porten and Ada Yardeni (Eisenbrauns, 2014)
Thirty years ago or so, large numbers of unprovenanced Aramaic ostraca from southern Israel began to appear on the antiquities market and were quickly snatched up by the usual rich collectors. Many of these have been published, largely by A. Lemaire. Many have been loaned to museums. Many remain unpublished. Many (published from photographs) can no longer be located. In short, a typical mess caused first and foremost by the ability of site raiders to sell their wares to antiquities dealers who, in turn, can demand substantial prices from collectors who, in turn, enhance the value of their investments by getting certain scholars to publish their holdings. All this is well known and its ramifications repeatedly pondered by museums and scholarly societies and journals for many years now. It is not a problem with an easy solution, neither for museums nor for scholars tempted to participate in the publications. Of collectors, the less said the better.
The corpus of material in question here, from the second half of the 4th century BCE, has come to be known as the Idumean ostraca, a corpus of somewhere around 2,000 ostraca apparently from ancient Makkedah, modern Khirbet el-Kom. The great majority of the documents are brief “commodity chits,” mostly dealing with the delivery of grain. It is with this group of documents that Bezalel Porten and Ada Yardeni have chosen to begin their publication series of this material with what is an amazingly detailed and handsome volume. Continue reading